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If you’re first getting into dumpster diving it can be a bit intimidating. I remember when I first decided to drive around in the evening and check out a few dumpsters…they were all locked up.
Finding a dumpster that isn’t locked up, has the potential for some good finds, and isn’t crawling with people can be a major challenge.
And, most of the time, the new divers are left all of their own to discover the good spots. Well, having been diving for several years (and making friends with people who have been diving for decades) I’ve learned a few things about where to go.
And now I’m here to spill the beans. Whether you’re a seasoned trash diver or you’ve just developed a fleeting interest these spots will give you an idea about exactly where to dumpster dive including specific spots, stores, and more.
At least, it will for now. If my spots get overrun I might have to take this article down.
Why Don’t People Talk About Places To Dumpster Dive?
The most obvious reason that people don’t want to talk about the best places to dumpster dive is that there a simply a finite number of spots in every town.
A good dumpster might have a cool find in it once or twice a week and a seasoned picker might only know of a dozen such dumpsters. If they’re reselling their finds it won’t take much or an influx of dumpster divers to destroy their entire business model.
Besides, dumpster divers (from what I’ve seen), tend to be the secretive type who are on the fringe of many societal norms.
The other reason is that, if word gets out about good spots, the stores tend to shut them down. Whether they decide to put in cameras, lock up the dumpster, or put no trespassing signs the result is the same — no free stuff you and me.
Businesses really detest people getting their garbage for free. Most would rather see their dumpster items rot in a landfill than go to someone who could actually use them or make money on them. In fact, many employees have been fired for giving people things that were being thrown away or tipping off dumpster divers.
The final reason is the liability. Businesses don’t want people in their dumpsters because they don’t want divers to get hurt and sue them. If a dumpster is posted “No Trespassing” and locked up a business is trying to reduce its liability if someone does something stupid.
All of these reasons together make dumpster diving hard — and it’s getting harder all the time. However, there are still some awesome finds to be had and there are people who make their entire living as professional scavengers.
So let’s talk about the places they look.
11 Best Spots To Dumpster Dive
Now, the best places to dumpster dive will obviously be influenced heavily by the types of things you’re looking for. Personally, I check all the dumpsters.
In general, dumpsters are split into three types:
- Food dumpsters: Grocery stores, delis, bakeries, etc.
- Hardgoods store dumpsters: Big box stores, electronics stores, pet stores, etc.
- Random dumpsters: Construction sites, apartments, etc.
If you’re laser-focused on finding a certain type of item, be sure to stick to the type of dumpster that is likely to have what you’re looking for.
1. Storage Units
Storage unit dumpsters are some of the most interesting and lucrative I’ve ever looked through.
Many storage units auction off units that aren’t paid for but, if the units aren’t big or exciting looking, the stuff is often just thrown into the dumpster. This also happens when people who rent units are moving out of state and just want to dispose of all of their stuff.
We rent a storage unit with a huge complex to store our eBay inventory in. In the two years we’ve been there we’ve (literally) thousands of dollars worth of stuff out of the dumpsters at the entrance. Not to mention several pieces of furniture which are currently in our house.
Most storage unit dumpsters are behind the fence to protect them from random dumpers but, if you look hard enough, you can find some that are out in the open. Or, you can also follow a car into and out of the units.
2. College Dorms
College dorm dumpsters on move-out days are veritable treasure piles. I have friends who have found all sorts of dorm furnishings, textbooks by the bushel (which they sold on Amazon), and even laptops.
Pretty much anything that was bought with mommy and daddy’s money is fair game to be thrown away here.
While I’m sure there are finds to be had at other points in the year (mostly beer cans…) the days after college is out and everyone heads home is a prime time to dive.
3. Thrift Stores
If you’re familiar with how thrift stores operate, you’re lucky. Non-charitable thrift stores are pretty much massively soul-less money-generating pits. More than half of the donated items go straight into the dumpster.
I recently donated a large load of old eBay and Poshmark inventory to a local big-box thrift store and the guy who was taking the donation told me flat-out that it was going to go straight into the dumpster because they didn’t have the room or manpower to deal with it.
Which, as a dumpster diver, was very interesting news.
Big box thrift stores near me do have their dumpsters posted but they’re not locked or chained up. They are typically full of furniture, furnishings, home supplies, small engines, etc.
4. Organic Food Stores
You’d think that organic food stores would be eco-conscious but, surprise, they’re all about profit.
Their thirst for profit, coupled with the fact that they deal in mostly fresh food, means that they produce a ton of waste. While some companies (such as Trader Joe’s) are responsible with their waste and donate it, much of it goes straight into the dumpster.
If I was into being totally freegan I could probably eat better out of the Whole Foods dumpster than I could by shopping at the grocery store by my house.
Just be very careful what you take. While some people are daring, I never take meat, even if it’s still frozen solid. It’s better to be hungry than sick.
5. Fresh Food Restaurants
I asked some guys hanging outside my grocery store last winter if they had dinner for the night and they responded, “we’re good brah, we got a pie!” Turns out, they got a pizza.
Many pizza places (chains) throw away pizzas at the end of the day as well as burned or poorly made pizzas throughout.
It’s not just pizza place dumpsters, however. Bakeries, delis, and even doughnut places get in on the action and fill up their dumpsters will day-old goods all the time.
If you just need to eat, this is where you should probably go.
However, if you’re dumpster diving for profit, let’s move on!
6. Pet Stores
One of the most common dumpster-hauls I see posted are hauls at certain large pet stores.
Often, people find pet cages, bedding, and even found live animals.
If you are going diving in a pet store dumpster, however, let me just warn you to be very careful with any pet food you find.
I once found a dumpster with about 30 55lb pound bags of dog food in it. After googling to brand and finding out that it was almost $2,000 worth of a very specific type of dog food, I also discovered that it was recalled and that nobody should be feeding these bags to their dog.
7. Large Apartment Units
Whenever I visited a friend of mine who lived in a large apartment complex I was sure to check the dumpsters. The complex was made up of 8 buildings with almost 500 units and there were 10 dumpsters on the lots that were emptied twice a week.
I would make a circuit around to check all of them and never go away empty-handed. I found tons of furniture, CDs, clothing, cookware, and everything else you’d expect to find in an apartment.
My biggest find, however, was a monstrous 55″ bulb TV which, being in college at the time, I took and stuck in our basement.
If you find units in a more affluent area you can do very well with all types of furniture and items which are typically not even placed in the dumpsters by the people throwing them away.
Just be aware that most managers will frown on you for climbing around in the dumpsters. Liability, ya know?
8. Furniture Stores
While most furniture stores have embraced scratch & dent sales, many dispose of their goods the new-fashioned way, via the dumpster.
I’ve seen people find lamps, recliners, computer chairs, desks, shelves, and just about everything else you can imagine.
While a good portion of what you find will be damaged in some way it’s typically a fairly easy fix. If you’re into flipping furniture then you’ll find that dumpsters can be an absolute goldmine.
9. Construction Sites
Quiz Question: Who cares the least about throwing things away?
Answer: People who didn’t pay for the stuff.
While there are exceptions, many of the construction sites I’ve been around have generated an appalling amount of waste.
From scrap to craft projects to full-on renovations you could probably find most of what you need from a construction site dumpster. I have a friend who set out on a mission to build a tiny home with only items that he salvaged or found. He ultimately failed but it wasn’t because construction site dumpsters aren’t awesome!
Many construction dumpsters are placed on the side of the road so they’re fair game but be careful not to be heading onto private property to take a peek inside.
10. Small Manufacturers
Many small businesses who are working out their supply chain kinks have to throw away entire shipments of stuff.
Whether it’s a misprint on a shirt or a spilled supplement bottle in an otherwise good box you can find huge amounts of things in manufacturers’ dumpsters.
My wife and I once found an entire crate of candles that must have had a bad run. Sometimes things are disposed of only for aesthetic reasons and the candles we got seemed to have been mixed poorly because the colors were inconsistent and chunky looking. They probably didn’t look right but they smelled great!
These are often some of the most accessible dumpsters as divers often focus on big box stores and avoid the light-manufacturing district.
11. Repair Shops
Repair shops of all sorts are a great spot for dumpster diving. After all, a small engine that is not worth repairing if you’re a $100/hour mechanic might be just perfect for your home project.
It’s not just small engine shops either. Think broadly to things like instrument repair shops and you’ll find gold in their dumpsters.
This is especially profitable when it’s a “non-profit” business that doesn’t care about wasting money. The shops outside of City or Public School mechanics shops often have pieces that they don’t care about throwing away because money is plentiful and the maintenance is consistent.
Now, you probably noticed that I didn’t tell you to check the dumpster behind the mall, Best Buy, or GameStop. The reason is that you should probably be checking those already and I’m just trying to broaden your horizons.
3 Tips To Set Yourself Up For Big Dumpster Finds
No matter how many dumpsters you find, you’ll still have nights (or even whole weeks) that you mostly come up empty.
However, there are a few things that you can do to make your dumpster diving adventures more successful.
- Check Often. Dumpster diving is similar to thrifting in that the people who spend the most time doing it have the best finds. If you’re serious about finding some awesome free stuff to sell or keep then you’ll want to check your best spots on a daily basis. However, you can also learn the best days to check so you don’t waste too much time.
- Don’t Assume. Just because a dumpster was totally dry the last 3 times you checked doesn’t mean that it will be this time. You only have to get lucky once to make it worth it.
- Make Friends. Build up some good karma by making friends and sharing knowledge within the freegan community. If you don’t have anyone to befriend, the dumpster diving subreddit is a good place to start.
I wouldn’t necessarily count this as a type but please be on your best behavior when visiting dumpsters. Clean up after yourself and don’t be a garbage pile of a human. Leaving a dumpster a mess is a really great way to make sure that it’ll be locked up next time you visit.
What To Do With Your Dumpster Finds
If you luck into a good set of dumpsters you might have more stuff than you know what to do with.
Which is a good problem to have.
Just take my advice and don’t become a hoarder. It is better for the “garbage” to go to the landfill than to clutter up your life necessarily. So, if you’re prone to collecting, here are a few ways that you can offload all of your dumpster finds:
- Use them. This is obviously the first thing you’d want to do anything. Take what you can use and leave the rest for the next guy. Just don’t do what I do and convince yourself that you’ll have a use for something “one day”.
- Sell them. We sell on eBay, Mercari, and Poshmark and get quite a bit of our inventory out of dumpsters. If you want to make money dumpster diving there are also a ton of alternatives to eBay that you can try out or you can just have a yard sale and make some money locally.
- Leave them. If I find something that’s nice but I don’t want/can’t use I’ll typically leave it in a highly visible location so that someone else can grab it.
- Donate them. If you find a bunch of something that isn’t really worth keeping or selling, consider donating it to a local thrift store. I just pulled a bunch of work lights out of the dumpster at my storage units which probably weren’t worth $5 apiece but were too good to go to the landfill. So I donated them.
Whatever you decide to do with your finds, just remember that part of the driving force behind dumpster diving is to improve the world. So do good, be good, and pass it on.
Hopefully, I was able to shed a bit of light on the best places to dumpster dive for fun and profit. You should be able to piece together the types of places I talked about and come up with a solid list of specific stores that you can check in your hometown.
Just be sure to check whether dumpster diving is legal in your state before heading out!